To the deep

October 8, 2008 | My Jottings

Growing up in Southern California always provided me with many opportunities to swim. Many of our neighbors had built-in swimming pools in their back yards, and of course we had hundreds of miles of Pacific coastline to choose from as well. Surrounded by so much water, my parents made sure I had swimming lessons at an early age. By the time I received my certificate of completion when I was five, I was hooked. Pretty much all I cared about for the next ten years was swimming. And books. Books and water competed for my affections, but water usually won out and it animated my young life. Until we moved to a house with a pool during my sixteenth year, I spent a lot of my childhood fervently hoping my friends with pools would take pity and invite me over to swim.

I also loved the beach. Sometimes my parents would take a drive to Huntington Beach and I could hardly wait to get my feet in the water. It didn’t matter if it was a 90 degree summer day or a 50 degree winter evening. As long as I can remember, I have been irresistibly drawn to water. I learned to body surf and enjoyed catching and riding the waves in to shore, but for some reason what I always wanted to do most was swim as far out into the ocean as I could.

My father would sit on the sand and watch me swim. I used to tell him, “Daddy, wave your hand up high when you think I’m out a mile!” I would swim way out past the breakers, and then stop to tread water and turn to see if Dad had his arm up. He never did, that first turn.

I would swim farther out, sometimes brushing my feet and legs against the rubbery, floating kelp beds as I kicked, and I always got the creeps thinking that those thick, slippery vines and leaves were trying to grab on to me. Then I would turn and look toward the beach again and see that the form of my father had gotten a bit smaller, but he usually didn’t have his arm up the second time either.

So I’d put my face back in the cold water and swim so far out that the people on the beach looked like colorful dots. I could distinguish my father from others only because he was a large man and usually wore a white short-sleeved sport shirt and was sitting close to the water.

Many times I would stop to float so I could rest and catch my breath; swimming was hard work. Before I started out again, I would deeply breathe in and out, in and out, then fill my lungs with as much air as they could hold, and dive down, down, down as far as I could, trying to touch the bottom. I tried not to open my eyes as I always did in chlorine pools, because the salt water burned so intensely. When I swam out so far that I couldn’t touch the ocean bottom when I dove, I always knew I was pretty far out. I would tread water again and look back to the shore to find my father’s white shirt, and could just barely see his upraised arm waving back and forth at me. Then I would start swimming back to him.

Never once did the thought of an ominous dorsal fin gliding silently across the surface of the water enter our minds. This was before the movie Jaws came out and before the days when shark attacks became so commonly reported. You might ask, “What on earth was her father thinking, letting his little girl swim out so far into the ocean?” And here’s my answer: I don’t know. There is no way I would have allowed one of my children to do what I did. Had they tried, I would have been the first mom running into the water with her clothes on, yelling, “Get back here! Don’t go so far out!” In those days fear didn’t seem to reign as it does now. Maybe there were just as many shark attacks and kidnappings imperiling our children, but we didn’t hear about them as much as we do today. Perhaps he wasn’t cautious enough, but my father was not afraid that I was going so far out of his reach that he couldn’t save me. And I certainly wasn’t afraid. I have never had an iota of fear when it comes to water.

I realize now that my father didn’t really let me swim an entire mile out to sea before he gave me the come-back signal. But at ten years old I didn’t know that. I don’t know why I wanted to swim out into the deep water. I just did.

Something has always drawn me to the deep things in life. I like movies and books that have hidden messages beneath the scenes or the words on the surface. I like deep conversation. I like in-depth Bible study. I like to try to figure out the meaning of things. I like deeper, darker colors. I like mystery.

But for all that, I sometimes feel like I’m stuck in the shallows. Because to go deep with the Lord requires surrender. To fully experience the depths of His unfathomable riches, I know I have to give up control. I kinda sorta want to do that, at least that’s what my head tells me. Why would I hold anything back from my Heavenly Father who has proven Himself faithful to me again and again? I don’t have an answer to that. But I find myself still dallying around sometimes, sitting at the water’s edge and putting my feet in, splashing the water on my face, but not throwing caution to the wind and diving into the deep, where it’s way over my head. And I’m not sure why. I hate to admit it, but I think fear has something to do with it.

I’ve memorized these verses (with a friend) and as I meditate on them, I’m asking God to reveal more to me.

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.  Ephesians 3:17-19

I wonder how we can possibly have the power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep the love of Jesus is for us?  Yet these verses say that with God’s enabling, it is possible.

Maybe I need to go back to my old childhood ways. I remember how exhilarating it was to run into the pounding Pacific surf and swim out past the huge waves to deep water. I think God is calling me deeper with Him, and I might be afraid to go.

There’s a passage from one of my favorite C.S. Lewis books, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, that I draw comfort and courage from. The Pevensie children are in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, and they’re hearing about Aslan the Lion, King of Narnia, for the first time.

“Is he a man?” asked Lucy.

“Aslan a man!” said Mr. Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the Great Lion.”

“Ooh!” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver, “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

“I’m longing to see him,” said Peter, “even if I do feel frightened when it comes to the point.”

I think I can long to see something or Someone, yet still feel a bit frightened at the prospect. I’d like to swim out to the deep water of the ocean again. And each time I stand on the shore of Lake Superior and look wistfully to its horizon, I think the same thing – not “oh how beautiful, look how huge” like others might think at the same view, but I want to jump in and swim out far. It’s too cold and dangerous for that, but the longing is still there.

I sense the beckoning of the Lord to go deeper with Him too. I don’t know why, but I hang back on the shore. Maybe because all my old ways and selfishness won’t be safe if I do jump in over my head. Maybe I want the safe rather than the exhilarating these days. I honestly don’t know.

But I can still hear that call, and with His help I will jump in and swim out past the breakers.  Out to the deep.  Hopefully soon, because I live in a dry and thirsty land.

My Man, Part 1

October 3, 2008 | My Jottings

I just read this list of questions on a blog I tune into occasionally, and I thought it was time I shared a little about my husband Michael.

1.  He’s sitting in front of the television – what is on the screen?  Sports, M*A*S*H, the History Channel, National Geographic stuff or an old John Wayne movie.

2.  You’re out to eat – what main dish will he have (or wish he was having), and what kind of dressing will he order for his salad?  Chorizo Burrito or a walleye fillet, and like me, blue cheese dressing on the salad.

3.  What’s one food he doesn’t like?  He hates even the smell of cucumbers from across a room.  (He just corrected me – he says he despises cucumbers).

4.  You go out to a bar, what kind of drink does he order?  A bar? What bar? He’s pretty much a teetotaler.

5.  Where did he go to high school? Proctor High School, Proctor, Minnesota.

6.  What size shoe does he wear? 10 1/2 or 11.

7.  If he were to collect anything, what would it be?  He does collect coins and agates, and would probably add to his collection of boy-toys (four-wheeler, snowmobile, boat, canoes, etc.) if we had room to store them.

8.  What’s his favorite type of sandwich? Anything with a Fred Flintstone-sized slab of meat on it.

9.  What would he eat every day if he could? Pork, beef, sausage, bratwurst, steak, salmon, walleye, trout.

10. What is his favorite cereal?  The kind that tastes like sausage, fried eggs and hash browns.

11. What would he never wear?  Gold chains around his neck, speedos, fedoras and capes.

12. What is his favorite sports team?  The Minnesota Twins.

13. Who will he vote for?  Hmmm. Probably not Ron Paul. Or Oprah’s guy.

14. Who is his best friend?  He would say first that it is Jesus, then probably about four or five men friends he fishes with.

15. What is something you do that he wishes you wouldn’t do?  Get bossy and abrupt when I’m under stress (we call it Witchinson’s around here).

16. How many states has he lived in? Minnesota and Florida by choice, California and North Carolina as a United States Marine.

17. What is his heritage? Scottish, Polish, French and Norwegian.

18. What kind of cake does he want you to bake for his birthday? Dark chocolate cake with Virginia’s Peanut Butter and Chocolate Frosting.

19. Did he play sports in high school? Baseball and Cross Country.

20. What could he spend hours doing?  Fishing, walking in the woods, sitting in a deer stand, house projects.

My Man, Part 2 coming soon.

Doc, my dad

October 2, 2008 | My Joys

This is an amazingly accurate likeness of my father drawn in about one hour, by my gifted son-in-law Jeremy. This is the quintessential Doc, from the expression on his face, to the cigar in his hand, to the mouth poised to speak on whatever things he felt passionately about, of which there were many.  

Most people knew my dad as Doc the high school basketball coach. Some knew him as Doc the golf coach, as Doc the veteran, Doc the patriot, or Doc the conservative. To me, he will always be Dad.

From a very early age I began to sense that my dad was well-known in our community, someone special to many people. Whenever anyone heard my last name they asked me, “Are you Doc’s daughter?” I was proud to say that I was.

My dad was the grandson of an itinerant preacher and the son of a pastor. From the time I was three years old, he made sure I got to Sunday School at the First Baptist Church where we lived, and I believed everything I was taught there. I remember every one of my Sunday School teachers, the first Bible verse I memorized, and the songs we sang. I remember the first time I realized that I needed a Savior and couldn’t be good on my own no matter how hard I tried. I remember walking down the church aisle at age twelve to ask Jesus to come into my life and take over.

Aside from being a record-setting basketball coach, my dad taught Driver’s Education, so I was a proficient and illegal driver by the time I was ten years old. There isn’t a time today when I’m effortlessly parallel parking and slipping into a tight parking spot in one try, that I don’t think of my dad teaching me the secret of that “very valuable life skill”.

My dad sang to me. He sang goofy songs he’d learned as a farm boy in rural Missouri, and old hymns that I learned by heart as I listened to him sing the words. Whenever he sang The Old Rugged Cross, he would get tears in his eyes.

Dad always let me tag along. He never treated me like I was just a child. He actually enjoyed my company, even though I could be a whiny little thing with a thousand questions. He never shooed me away, never once told me to be quiet, never told me he didn’t have time for me. I didn’t realize how remarkable this was until I had children of my own.

He was a kid magnet. He loved children, and children loved him. My three daughters couldn’t wait to take their summer turns to fly to California and spend two weeks with Grandpa. He sat for hours while they played beauty shop, putting gel in his hair, hanging dangling earrings on those huge ears, and giggling with him. He doted on them and made them feel special and cherished.

My dad was never one to hold back. You always knew where you stood with him. With Doc, you knew that winning was paramount, liberals were suspect, and that one should have at least six cigars in one’s shirt pocket at all times. And if you were fortunate enough to play basketball for him, you knew exactly how to snap your wrist sharply out to the right when you took a shot.

My father could be difficult too. He was opinionated and hated to be wrong. I think he probably thought he rarely was. He demanded a lot of his basketball players and of those he loved. But I can honestly say that I always knew he loved me.

Even though my father didn’t live out his Christian beliefs as openly as I think he would now, I know he wanted to pass on his foundational faith in Jesus, and it “took” with me. I caught it.  It has changed my life, saved my life, altered my outlook and lifted my chin. I want nothing more and nothing less than to pass it on to my daughters, and I take every opportunity I’m given to let my seven grandchildren know how much they are treasured by their Heavenly Father. I fervently pray that they will catch it too.

My dad’s last words to me were on the phone on Saturday, November 17th, 2007. His voice wasn’t the booming, assured, laughing one I’ve known all my life. Instead his voice was weak and raspy, and he was closer to death than any of us knew. But we know now that he knew how close he was to leaving here. The last thing my father said to me was “Love you, love you, love you.”

My father died on November 20, 2007, in his home in San Luis Obispo, California, where he was lovingly pampered and selflessly cared for by his wife Dorothy. He was 87 years old.

My dad left me many things, but I’m most grateful for two. I’m thankful he led me to a place where I would hear and eventually believe the gospel of Jesus Christ, and I’m so grateful that he made me feel loved. For a daughter to know that she was her father’s delight is a priceless gift.

My father had a presence about him that isn’t often seen. So his absence seems to leave a larger void. Even now it doesn’t feel real that someone so commanding and confident is really gone. But I will see him again.

And today, nearly one year after not hearing his voice anymore, I miss him.